OPINION: Forget Captain Cook, murder victims need a monument
The May 2 domestic violence vigils are a perfect example of why the Federal Government should build a memorial for all Australians lost to violence instead of erecting a new Captain Cook statue, writes SHERELE MOODY.
FROM the bush to the sea, thousands of Australians will this week gather in public parks, town centres and city streets to remember lives lost to domestic and family violence.
Tomorrow candle flames will flicker and stories of loss and despair will reverberate at a handful of candlelight vigils across the country.
Held exactly a week after Australia commemorates Anzac Day, these evocative remembrance ceremonies do not attract the fervour, passion and outpouring of support rightly afforded to the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
But, for those who have buried a loved one killed by a partner, former partner or family member, May 2 is just as significant and relevant as April 25.
"I will never forget the first time I went to a candle lighting vigil to remember lives lost to domestic homicide," my friend Sonia Anderson says, reflecting on that sad date back in 2010.
"I was surrounded by strangers who showed me compassion and understanding."
I first met Sonia during the unveiling of Queensland's domestic violence memorial a few years ago in Brisbane.
Sonia spoke eloquently at that event, revealing the heartache of losing her eldest daughter Bianca Faith Girven to violence.
Bianca was just 22 years old when her partner Rhys Austin strangled the anti-domestic violence campaigner to death.
Austin was found unfit to stand trial because of mental health issues and is now locked up in a forensic facility for an indefinite period.
Sonia has erected a small memorial in the Mt Gravatt park where Bianca lost her life and while the mother of three visits this weekly, Brisbane's candlelight vigil remains a highlight of Sonia's year.
"We come together to remember Bianca's life and pay respect to both Bianca and others who have been killed by someone who was meant to love them," Sonia says.
"With so much of my life now taken up advocating against family violence, having this one night of peace and love shared with others is soothing."
Di Mangan has been working in the domestic and family violence field for more than 40 years and for her, the vigils are always a "sobering and jolting experience".
"These deaths are the ultimate act of violence that must be highlighted by the sector that works in this world of pain and inequality," the former DVConnect manager says.
"We have to keep our focus on the elimination of violence against women and children."
Betty Taylor is a long-term women's safety advocate and an expert on family violence, particularly the crimes of strangulation and choking.
While most people Betty's age are enjoying their retirement, she is an unrelenting and unstoppable powerhouse.
Ask almost any domestic violence professional about DV deaths and they'll say: "Speak to Betty - she's the expert".
Betty is a key member of Queensland's Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Board and she runs the Red Rose Foundation, which helps Queensland Police, Micah, the Australian CEO Challenge and DVConnect organise Brisbane's vigil.
"The first Wednesday of May was designated as DV Remembrance Day many years ago by the then Domestic Violence Council," she tells me.
"Initially it was held in Queensland but now many communities across Australia pause to reflect on the unacceptable toll of domestic and family violence.
"Over the years, I have found the events to be something that is embraced by people across the political divide but more importantly, a place for families, friends and colleagues to come to, to light a candle and reflect on the life of their loved one who was snatched from them so violently and needlessly."
The toll of domestic violence
THIS year, we will be lighting candles for the 77 Australians who died at the hands of a family member in 2017.
We will also be commemorating the lives of the 18 women, men and children lost to domestic and family violence in the first five months of this year.
As always, women figure highly in this year's domestic violence toll with 11 females allegedly murdered by loved ones.
Femicide Australia Project data shows 10 men and one woman are charged, or suspected, to have been involved in these deaths.
The data also shows family members have allegedly killed six men since January 1 with four men and three women charged, or suspected, over these deaths.
A female family member has allegedly murdered one child.
With statistics like these, there is no doubt the domestic violence vigils are a fitting tribute to the victims of Australia's terror at home.
From the regional centres of Townsville, Cairns, Gladstone, Ipswich, the Gold Coast and Mackay to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart and Canberra, the ceremonies shine a light into corners many people would prefer remained in the dark.
The vigils also get people talking about the impact of all types of familial abuse and, hopefully, they help those in domestic violence crisis consider reaching out for help.
Most importantly, they highlight the human tragedy behind the statistics that tell us at least one woman a week will die and one man a month will lose his life as a result of DV.
But what about the 49 other people murdered in our country this year?
Who will light a candle for the the 38 men, eight women and three children whose violent deaths are not linked to DV?
Why our nation needs a national memorial for violence victims
THE May 2 vigils are the only national public commemoration of those lost to violence.
As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time digging deep into our violent history, it saddens me that this is the best we can do as a nation for murdered Aussies.
It is also sad that our Federal Government is considering spending millions to erect another statue of Captain Cook - a man who will always be linked to the white persons' slaughter of our indigenous people - but it has never given one dollar to fund a national memorial to recognise all murder victims.
Ask anyone who has lost a loved one to violence and they will tell you their biggest fear is knowing their son, daughter, sister, brother, niece, nephew, mother, father, friend, neighbour or colleague will be forgotten once the headlines about that person fade from our consciousness.
Janet Mills Clarke has spent the past 28 years mourning her daughter Stacey-Ann Tracy.
Stacey-Ann was just nine years old when heinous child killer Barry Gordon Hadlow raped and murdered her.
Janet and I are tied together by this tragedy in a strange way - Hadlow was married to my mother when he killed the young Roma schoolgirl.
Despite the fact a person connected so strongly to me killed someone connected so strongly to Janet, we speak from the same page about the impact of murder.
"I would like for there to be a national memorial for all victims of violence," Janet tells me.
"It would make me feel that all victims would never be forgotten."
Based in Victoria, Janet says a national day of mourning and remembrance would mean so much for her, Stacey-Ann's sister Elizabeth and Stacey-Ann's grandparents who live in Bundaberg.
"I don't think the victims of violence should ever be forgotten - I feel it's important for them to always be remembered," she says, revealing she will soon move to Queensland so she can be closer to Stacey-Ann's grave in Roma.
"It would make me feel great to know Stacey was not just another statistic."
In Northern NSW, Robyn Summers-Shelley has spent the past two decades waiting to find out who murdered her son.
Paul Louis Summers was sleeping on a couch in a biker clubhouse at Gosford when someone sprayed the building - and his body -with bullets.
The 31-year-old's killer has never been found despite NSW Police offering a $100,000 reward to solve the crime.
A national memorial would mean so much for Robyn, who fears she will die without knowing the truth about Paul's death.
"To have my son Paul honoured this way would exceed all of my wildest dreams," Robyn says, suggesting a memorial wall listing the names of all victims would suffice.
"Murder often is put in the too-hard basket, but to have his name inscribed there, everyone would know he lived and that his young life was cut short at the hands of unknown persons.
"Apart from family, people forget unless it directly affects them.
Peter Rolfe is the president of Support After Murder Australia, which he began about 11 years ago to help people who have lost a loved one to murder.
Peter's partner Stephen Dempsey was murdered in 1994 by Richard Leonard.
The 22-year-old abattoir worker shot Stephen to death with a bow and arrow at Narrabeen in NSW.
The psychopath then carved up the 34-year-old's body and took the body home where he placed it in a freezer.
Over the past 24 years, Peter has turned his grief into supporting others who have walked in his shoes.
He has long advocated for a national day to commemorate Australians lost to violence.
He says the money the Federal Government plans to spend on the new Captain Cook statue could be used in a much more meaningful way.
"It would be marvellous for me and for others to have a memorial because it would highlight the injustices done to us," he says.
Peter is close friends with Ebony Simpson's mother Christine.
Ebony was murdered in Bargo, NSW, in 1992 by Andrew Peter Garforth.
Peter says he would love for a national day of remembrance to be held on August 19 - the day Garforth abducted the nine-year-old as she walked home from school.
Garforth forced Ebony into the boot of his car then drove her into the bush where he bound her tiny body with wire, raped her and then threw her into a dam to drown.
Like Hadlow, Garforth had the hide to join the hundreds of community members and emergency services personnel as they searched for his victim.
Garforth was sentenced to life in prison and is unlikely to be released.
Some 26 years later, Peter says Ebony's death paved the way for a national help service for families bereaved by murder.
He says setting aside August 19 would be a fitting tribute to Ebony's parents who played a fundamental part in the formation of the national Homicide Victims' Support Group.
When Ebony died, two strangers stepped up to help Christine and Peter navigate the rough road they were suddenly forced to travel.
Garry and Grace Lynch knew exactly what the Simpsons were going through - their daughter Anita Cobby was raped and murdered by a group of men in Sydney.
At the time of Ebony's and Anita's murders there were no support services for people who had lost a loved one to violence.
The Simpsons and the Lynch family decided to change this and thanks to them, Australia now has the Homicide Victims' Support Group.
Garry and Grace have both died but Christine says her dear friends would have loved to see Anita's name alongside Ebony's on a national memorial.
"There needs to be more of a public conversation about murder and violence and a memorial would help that," Christine says.
"The government, Corrective Services and most people do not understand what your life is like after murder.
"You can't function. It destroys your family."
Commemorating these victims is the least we can do
IT would be so easy for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to declare a national day of mourning that honours all Australian victims lost to all forms of violence.
A small annual grant fund could be set aside for local communities to commemorate these victims while commissioning a special sculpture or adding a garden of peace and reflection in our nation's capital would ensure their loved ones knew they mattered.
While the pleas of Janet, Peter, Christine and Robyn will likely never reach the ears of our nation's politicians, it's up to the rest of us to let these special Aussies know their voices have been heard.
If you light a candle for the Aussies lost to domestic and family violence, please do a small favour for all the other families who are grieving a loved one.
Look into that flame and spare a thought for every Aussie lost to violence - it's the least we can do for the men, women and children who died as because their killers decided they did not deserve to live.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732; NewsRegional supports the Queensland Government's #dosomething campaign, which urges Queenslanders to call police if they know someone is experiencing domestic and family violence.
News Corp journalist Sherele Moody is the recipient of 2017 Clarion and Walkley Our Watch journalism excellence awards for her coverage of domestic violence issues. Sherele is also the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and a member of the Femicide Australia Project.